Am I covering the subject or causing confusion?

I once worked an assignment to write a training manual for employees of a major banking firm on the proper procedure for transferring very large amounts of money from one financial institution to another. I watched an experienced employee explain the proper data entry techniques on one computer screen, then another computer screen, and a third, and so on. Moving from screen to screen, she sometimes pressed the ENTER key, sometimes a FUNCTION key, and sometimes a combination of keys; yet she did not verbalize that part of her actions. I said to her, “What keys does an operator press to change screens?” She paused then, with a smile of realization, and said, “Oh, I guess we had better tell them how to do that too.”

As writers, we have lots and lots of information in our heads. We know the whole story. Our job is to make sure we tell that whole story to our readers. We must take to heart the wisdom of legendary blues singer Lightnin’ Hopkins who, at the start of one of his tunes, stops a live recording session with these words: “No, I don’t want you to be knowin’ so good that you don’t do good. I want you to do good.”

Often, when editing, I see copy that reflects this creative conundrum. The problem is simple: The written plot line goes from Point A to Point B to Point C … and then to Point G.

When I ask, “How did you get from Point C to Point G?” the writer describes the missing steps. I return, “Did you explain that to your reader?” Like the bank’s financial trainer, the writer realizes, “Well, no, so I guess I better relate that too.”

How, when writing, can you remember to fill in the blanks? First, write from your creative mind, letting your ideas flow. Then, with your editorial mind, read your draft from the readers’ point of view. Ask yourself, “If I did not already know this information well, would I understand what I’ve written?” If you answer “no,” go back and fill in the blanks.

Then also hire a good, reliable, fresh pair of eyes—preferably a professional editor—to review your work.

Krings-swamp-Lakeview-2011-04-09-IMG_2488-crop-600pxw-224x156Some people have roots. Others have wings. We need both in our world. The rooted ones benefit from stories the winged ones bring from far away places. The winged ones benefit from stories of those who carefully, year after year, study their local environs.

This image exemplifies that theme. After having traveled to India for several months one winter, I was walking near my home in an early spring evening. The setting sun caused trees to cast long shadows across water in a swamp as the hues of swamp gas created a rainbow of oily pale blues and rosy ambers atop the surface.

I was reminded of beauty and charm to be found nearby as well as from afar.

Photo by Robert M Weir, April 2011, near Tamarack Lake, Lakeview, Michigan, USA.




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